Had a great day at the New River 50K. The experience ranks a close second to my sub 3 hour marathon as a 50 yr old at the'09 Boston Marathon. The utra marathon crowd is so different then a "normal" road race or marathon. It is a very close knit family that I now feel apart of. I know I will cross paths again on another trail with many folks that I met on October 9th.
Leading up to the 50k, I had a fairly easy week. I did a 2 hour run on Wed. but just light running the other days. I did have back to back long runs a week ago. So not a complete taper but still more rested then usual.
I made the trip alone. Got up at 4:45 a.m. and was on the road shortly after 5. Besides all the running gear, I brought a banana, coffee, and 3 whole grain frozen pancakes that I popped in the toaster for a pre race meal on the drive. The drive was less then 2 hours so I had plenty of time when I arrived for the 8 a.m. start. The temps were in the low to mid 40's at the start and it was likely to be in the 70's at the finish so I really argued with myself about what to wear. I ended up deciding on short sleeves with gloves. I could always drop the gloves when it got warm.
I didn't really talk to many folks prior to the race other then in the porta john line. Of course that reminded me of my mother always meeting people at the bathrooms when we took family camping trips. Also chuckled to myself about the Keller Williams song "I Fell in Love in the Porta Pottie Line"... no I didn't fall in love but enjoyed the pre race chit chat.
The race started promptly at 8 a.m. with the sun just coming up and fog lifting over the river. The New River was wider then I expected up in Virginia. It was a beautiful sight. The entire course is on dirt (with road crossings and wooden bridges), about the width of a forest service road, all along the river. It was an out and back course. After the initial mile I sort of fell in line with Jenny, from Bristol, VA. Jenny was all decked out with fancy gear. Sports sunglasses, compression socks, vest for gels and drinks and such. She claimed to have only run two previous ultras but she talked and ran like a true veteran. [Correction: Jenny has run a bunch of ultras but I did get it right that she only had one previous 50 miler!] She was running great just 4 weeks after her first 50 mile mountain race. I noticed her Garmin chiming at what I figured were mile intervals (no marked miles on the course). Jenny let me know we were running pretty even splits, right at 8:20 per mile or so. A little faster then I planned but very comfortable. Jenny and I also had a Louisiana connection as she went to SLU in Hammond, LA. I took an early pit stop to water the bushes and quickly caught back up to her and felt like we were slowing a bit so I moved on down the trail.
I didn't really know what pace I was running, but it was cool and the views were beautiful so I just kept moving along. The trail was much like Salem Lake, only smoother and flatter. Enjoyed the course so much... shaded trail, over many foot bridges, through a very dark tunnel, past a small waterfall, farmland, crossed Chesnut Creek.... Off and on my knee was hurting but seemed to go away as quickly as I noticed it. Ultra's seem to have more good older runners and talented women. There seemed to be a bunch of over 40 guys in front of me and several women. I got to the turnaround in 2:09 and noticed at least one gray haired guy in front of me. Coming back I realized no one had passed me since probably mile 5 and I was picking off runners, so either they were slowing or I was moving along pretty good. I tried to concentrate on keeping my cadence quick and keeping my legs under me and not heel striking and braking. I was in my very minimal New Balance 100's and felt like I kept a mid foot plant the whole way.
One guy did pass me on the way back, Chad from Mooresville, NC. Chad promised me I wasn't slowing but that he had gone out very conservative and had picked up his pace. So the last 2/3 of the race he was the only one that passed me. I did a total of 5 gels, and since this was a "green" event and didn't have cups, I stopped at a few aid stations to fill up my water bottles. I opted for a fuel belt and not a hand held for fluids. My legs were feeling tired probably in the 16-25 mile range but then actually started to feel pretty good again. I guess I got in enough fuel to rid myself of the glycogen depleted leg feel (dead legs). With about 2 miles to go I ran out of water/gatorade and started to fade a bit but with so little left it wasn't a big deal. I never did catch the white haired guy but finished feeling pretty good in 4:18:56 for right at 8:20 per mile. Very pleased... and much faster then I planned to go. It was getting pretty warm late in the run and I could feel it but didn't feel like I pushed myself too hard which was my goal.
I finished in 20th place out of 130 finishers and as I suspected quite a number of 40+ guys in front of me, also was beaten by one 55 yr old, a 60 yr old (the gray headed guy I was hoping to catch) and 4 women. I think the post race experience is what really made the event so special. A woman that finished a few minutes behind me said she was heading to the river to soak like last year.... sounded like a great idea. So I made my way down to the banks of the New River and found a nice rock to sit on about 20 feet out into the river and was able to soak my tired legs in the cold clear water up to about my thighs. I ended up talking a good bit with Chad, who was the only one to pass me after the initial miles. I joked that he had ruined my day. He is also running in the Umstead 100 mile race in April. I sat back with my legs in the cold water, warm sun on my face, mountain ridges in the distance taking it all in and feeling satisfied after running 31 miles.... listening to the "ultra talk"..... "oh I heard you ran blah blah blah 50 miler, how was that?" "it was great, 20 miles of forest service road, 12,000' of climbing, the last 20 miles on gnarly, single track, thick mud and rocks.... it was so awesome" "hey do you do 5 hour back to backs or limit it to 4 hours?" "what's your next ultra?"..... I'm not sure anything could have made me happier at that moment.
I ate some great veggie soup at the post race feast, along with bread, bananas, apples, chips and lot's of cookies. I hung around some more around the finish line area chatting and cheering on the later finishers. One old guy finished and it was announced that he had just completed his 242nd ultra. He also said they don't get any easier... the finish line crowd loved it.
I said goodbye to all my new friends, thanked the race director and headed to the car to hit the road, almost not wanting to leave. BIG thanks have to go out to Annette Bednosky, the world class ultra runner, who gives back to the sport she loves by directing this wonderful race. Now on to finding the next 50 miler or 100k before I attempt 100 miles at Umstead in April.
Brief training summary from Oct 4 - Oct 9
Easy 5.5 mile run with Chuck and Docs
Slept in, easy 3 mi jog (semi tapering)
14.5 mi run with Chuck, 2:04. Felt good in cool crisp temps
Real easy 6 mile run alone. Okay after a few miles
NRT 50k 4:18:56 8:20/mi
Total 60 miles